Ann Hui—telling the stories of Hong Kong’s social issues through cinema

Ann Hui is a director, screenwriter, producer, and actress, who has become one of the most influential figures of Hong Kong’s New Wave filmmakers. In the past decade, she has become a somewhat legend at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Summer Snow and A Simple Life both won all five major awards, which include Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress, during their respective years of nomination.

Hui is known for creating works of a personal nature. She tends to focus on social issues in Hong Kong, particularly about the people and their struggles and giving a voice to those who need it, including women and Vietnamese refugees. She recognized the difficulties in finding projects that were attractive to both the public and to investors, but still wanted to put her efforts into pieces that would provide social commentary on issues that were prevalent in society.

A Simple Life

A Simple Life is one of Ann Hui’s notable works from 2011, which stars Deanie Ip and Andy Lau. The story begins with an unmarried film producer, “Roger Leung” (Andy Lau), returning to his Hong Kong home after a business trip. It is clear that he has a long and comfortable relationship with the maidservant “Chung Chun-to” (Deanie Ip), who has serviced the family for decades. When Chung falls ill from a stroke, she decides to retire and asks to be put in a nursing home. From here on, the film evolves into one about the social issues in Hong Kong about the aging population and the growing concerns about elderly homes. Throughout the film, there also exists an undertone about the uncomfortable issues of class difference, particularly made clear when Roger introduces himself as Chung’s godson, rather than her boss.

A lot of what happens in the film is relatable for the older generations in Hong Kong. They do not want to be a burden on the younger generation but also face fears when it comes to adapting to this latter stage of their lives. The film develops a perspective that brings the audience into the nursing home as though they were moving in themselves. At first, everything feels foreign and scary, but then as Chung gets to know the place and the people there, she becomes a part of this new life. It’s difficult to not draw a comparison between her waiting for Roger to visit, with how a child would wait for their parents to pick them up from nursery. There are many moments like this that are poignant but also difficult to swallow as Hui points out to the audience that this is simply the cycle of life. Needless to say, this film won many awards, including four awards and one nomination at the 68th Venice International Film Festival. Read FF2 Media’s review of the film here!

The Golden Era

Due to her cultural background, Hui often works on projects that are related to Hong Kong and mainland China. In 2014, Hui took on the challenge of directing the complex biopic The Golden Era. This film is about one of China’s most progressive writers of the time—Xiao Hong. Having the characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience, Hui attempts an unconventional approach to telling a story that must reflect true historical facts, whilst also portraying the turbulent times and emotions of the writer’s personal and professional life.

It’s always fascinating for me to watch how artists in conservative nations (which China is and definitely was in the 20th century) navigate the balance of making their art personal, and the pressures and judgement they receive from those around them. In Xiao’s case, it turns out she was simply brave and stubborn enough to commit her all to her art. Set in the 1930s, The Golden Era helps fill in some of the gaps in the literary history of China in the 20th century. The movie starts out with “Xiao Hong” (Tang Wei) speaking directly into the camera. Although uncomfortable to start with, I am eased into her mind and realize that I am about to embark on her personal story. The excerpts of her writing and various accounts of what happened create a very romantic and nostalgic feeling for the film. Admittedly, it is quite long (running a whole 177 minutes!), but there are elements of it that are certainly worth watching. The film bounces between many cities, including Shanghai, Wuhan, Chongqing, Hong Kong, and more. For anyone looking for a peak into those cities during the 20th century, production designer Zhao Hai does a great job in building the cultural tones of these locations. It also helps with any viewers who have difficulties keeping up with Xiao’s travels. I enjoy watching films related to literature figures from the past because it feels as though I am learning whilst also being entertained visually. Have a read of our review of the film here!

Our Time Will Come

Founded in 1982, the Hong Kong Film Awards is the Hong Kong equivalent to the Academy Awards in America. The film awards ceremony runs yearly and aims to recognize achievement in nineteen categories of filmmaking such as Best Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and so on. At the Hong Kong Film Awards, Hui had the most wins for Best Director, garnering a total of six awards for the title. To top it off, in 2018, her film Our Time Will Come swept five of the nineteen available awards in the categories for Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Film Score. 

Our Time Will Come (2017) is Hui’s most recent film as a director, which utilizes her subtle storytelling style. The audience will be rewarded if they approach the film with patience. In recreating a part of Hong Kong’s history that is largely unknown, Hui manages to allow the audience to focus on relatable behaviors from daily life rather than big epic moments. Hui’s talent in directing actors is evident in the nuanced performances where politics and personal lives are once again brought together. It’s also important to note that this is a piece about war told from a female perspective—something that is quite unusual, but something that Hui often tries to do in her work. Read our review of the film here!

Honored at the 2012 Asian Film Awards for her lifetime achievements, Ann Hui is undoubtedly leaving her mark in Hong Kong Cinema history. According to IMDb, she is the top female director in Hong Kong, which makes it all the more surprising how little known she is in the West. Hui’s extensive portfolio of film works, some of which include Ordinary Heroes (2000) and The Way We Are (2009) has made her a strong representative for female directors and prominent figure in Asian Cinema.

© Katusha Jin (06/15/2020) FF2 Media

Feature Photo: Ann Hui

Middle Photo: Ann Hui, Deannie Ip, Andy Lau, and Hailu Qin at an event for A Simple Life (2011)

Bottom Photo: Wei Tang in The Golden Era (2014)

Photo Credits: IMDb; © 2011 Dominique Charriau; China Lion Film Distribution

Tags: A Simple Life, Ann Hui, director, FF2 Media, katusha jin

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Katusha Jin
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As part of the FF2 Media team, Katusha Jin interviews filmmakers, write features and reviews, and coaches other associates. She grew up in the UK and studied briefly in Russia and China before moving to New York for college. Graduating magna cum laude from New York University, Katusha majored in Film and Television at Tisch School of the Arts with minors in Business and Philosophy. She has worked as a producer, director, writer, and composer for various award-winning projects including short films, branded content, independent features, and music videos.
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